Tia Barthorpe's Story

Not Just a Treatment Center, a Family

When patients enter the Edith Sanford Breast Center (ESBC) in Bemidji, they immediately realize they have become part of a large and welcoming family. Although the building is located in the Sanford Bemidji Main Clinic, the ESBC is more about the people and the mission than it is exam rooms and hallways.

“When patients come into the Edith Sanford Breast Center with a problem or a concern, our goal is that when they leave that day, they will have either an answer or a plan,” said Tracy Skaja, BSN, RN, CBCN, a breast health specialist at Sanford Bemidji. “To the best of our ability, we try to accommodate the patient’s needs, and we do that during the first visit. If there is nothing for the patient to worry about, we will let the patient know. If we do find something, we will do a biopsy the same day to find out what we are dealing with, or we will schedule a return visit for further treatment.”

Tia Barthorpe of Bemidji became part of the ESBC family the year after she found a lump on her breast that felt odd. “Right away I knew it wasn’t good,” Barthorpe explained of finding the lump.

Barthorpe took her concerns to the staff at ESBC, and Beth Ann Korczak, PA-C, set the wheels in motion with an immediate examination and mammogram. In addition, Korczak ordered an ultrasound.

“And that’s when they saw it,” Barthorpe recalled.

A second ultrasound was ordered. When radiologist Dr. Matthew Sanford looked at those results, he told Barthorpe the cyst most likely wasn’t benign, and a biopsy would reveal what the team was up against.

“At my request, we waited a week for the needle biopsy,” Barthorpe said. “But after the ultrasound that first day, Dr. Sanford gave me his card and his cell phone and told me to call with any questions or concerns. How many doctors will give you their cell phone numbers?”

“The day of the biopsy he sat down with us and explained everything.” Barthorpe continued. “Beth Ann called me the next day with the results, and two days later, I had my lumpectomy surgery with general surgeon Dr. Benjamin Roy.”

The needle biopsy revealed that Barthorpe had invasive ductal carcinoma, but the good news was it hadn’t spread into the lymph nodes. Her treatment included 15 radiation treatments over a three-week period under the guidance of radiation oncologist Dr. John Bollinger as well as a hormone drug designed to prevent a reoccurrence.

“Dr. Bollinger and the radiology techs were all great,” Barthorpe said. “They were so reassuring. On the last day of my treatment, Dr. Bollinger told me if I have any questions, I should come back because I was part of the family.”

The family also includes breast cancer navigator, Terri Bentler, BSN, RN, OCN, CN-BN, who handles all of the behind-the-scenes aspects of the diagnosis, treatment and follow-up care.

“Terri is involved with all of the background work,” Skaja explained. “She handles everything needed to set the patient’s appointments, including the surgeries, medical oncology and radiation oncology treatments. Dealing with a diagnosis of cancer is hard enough by itself, and we don’t want to make things worse by having a patient worry about scheduling treatments or appointments. Our job is to make things as easy as possible. Our job is to make the Edith Sanford Breast Center of Bemidji a one-stop shop.”

“Terri met us right away and set everything up for us,” Barthorpe stated. “Terri took care of all of the

details and all of the worry about what we were supposed to do next.”

Barthorpe’s follow-up treatment also included a visit with Sanford Bemidji geneticist, Jennifer Leonhard. A month before Tia discovered her lump, her mother, Mary, was diagnosed with breast cancer during her annual mammogram screening. Mary’s cancer was contained, however, so a lumpectomy was enough to eliminate the problem.

“The first mammogram found a spot, and the spot showed up again during a second mammogram and the ultrasound,” Mary said. “Dr. Thurgood (radiologist Michael Thurgood, MD) then ordered a biopsy and that also showed cancer. We did all that in the same day, and I liked the fact that everything happened so fast.”

“Our services include screening mammograms, diagnostic mammograms and ultrasounds, breast MRI, breast biopsies, clinical breast exams, consultations with clinical physicians, genetic testing for patients with a family history of cancer, navigators to help patients through the diagnostic and treatment process, and the Athena Breast Health Network – a program to help determine a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer and connections with cancer survivor mentors,” Skaja said. “A patient may not need all of these services, but they are available for those who do.”

Tia Barthorpe doesn’t require all of the services offered by the ESBC, but she is glad to have them available if the need arises.

“From start to finish, the people at the breast center are on top of things,” she explained. “Their goal is to make having cancer go as smoothly as possible by giving the best care possible.”

“Walking into our breast center thinking there is a possibility that you have breast cancer and then being told you have breast cancer is a life-changing moment,” Skaja said. “There is no good way to tell someone they have breast cancer, but we have to deal with the cards we are given and play them the best way we can.”